Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Which manor?


The Manor, originally shot inna citizen journalism stylee on his phone, edited and uploaded by Blackdown.

I was out of London over the weekend. I love this intense, pressured, multicultural city but sometimes escaping is good for the soul; for mine at least.

Driving through twisty rural lanes, the hedgerows bursting with prima vera, I was struck how odd the usually familiar recording of Roll Deep on Rinse felt. With JME hosting and Maximum dropping choice vocal cuts to begin with, even familiar bars jarred.

Now I know I’ve banged on about the link between environment and music, surrounding and sound, a lot – keysounds and all that – but internally I keep coming back to it since its proven such a profound revelation to me.

Its baffling how the same recording of JME and friends can sound sick in the car to FWD>>, cruising down dark, damp east London side streets, yet jar like an uppercut to the jawside while out in the sticks?

To add to the experience jungle/d&b made more sense again. On the same CD as the Rinse recording is a copy of Bailey’s recent ‘All Photek’ mix. I’ve never really recovered from Photek, if truth be told, even in the light of r&b and grime’s subsequent elegant rhythmic consolidations. More is more when it comes to Photek’s beats, unlike for me Squarepusher/Boxcutter/Amon Tobin/breakcore/all infinite Amen edits crew et al.

As well as Photek’s early jungle, Calibre’s recent d&b album finally made more sense cruising through fields at sunset than it had done in London. One of the key sonic signatures that differentiates d&b from much of grime or dubstep, is that spacious ‘e’ vibe. Synthetic synth pad washes that soar through your brain like the rushes of MDMA. Inherited from hardcore and acid house, d&b has yet to lose this vibe, whereas dubstep and grime reflect more fully the grounded ‘control culture,’ where raving is about being seen to be in-control, not lost, out of it, a trait that’s reinforced by the lack e sonic signatures in urban sounds like r’n’b, dancehall and desi and the culture of the rewind: if the track’s so unbearably good it might, just might make you lose control, well “quick rudeboy you mus lick dat back.”

To me it was this ‘space’ in the Calibre album that made some more sense surrounded by fields, not closed in by decaying buildings. The Calibre album is also pretty clean (caused perhaps from his upgrade from a shitty hardware sampler to Logic), so maybe that makes more sense when your lungs are full of fresh clean air, not pollution and tube dust.

Perhaps it’s a leap, but maybe this is why d&b has travelled, whereas in relative terms grime hasn’t? Of course I’m not comparing like with like: the music industry is massively different from the mid-90s to mid-00s (no way would producers – not artists – like Photek, Alex Reece and Goldie get signed to majors in this day and age) but perhaps one element of the reason could be that e-fuelled inclusive ‘unity’ at the centre of acid house has mass appeal, regardless of people’s urban, suburban or rural backgrounds. Conversely it’s harder to ‘get’ grime’s inner city anger unless you’ve walked through it a few times. (To qualify this, I’m not saying isolated rural yet determined headz can’t ‘get’ grime, I’m merely talking about scale: why aren’t legions of fans demanding to see grime MCs at Homelands (a dance festival held in a green rural bowl) or putting on their shows in medium sized count(r)y towns? For a full State of Grime nation debate go read the Dissensus thread…)

Later last weekend I found myself in a tiny rural village. One road in, one road out. Gorgeous wooded valley, no mobile reception. One stone church, two babbling brooks, one stately home (no, not that manor), few deer: the lot. Bar a few satellite dishes, I doubt the general appearance of the village had changed in decades, perhaps even centuries.

It would have been hard to find a more picture postcard vision of classical ‘Englishness.’ It’s the kind of lifestyle right wing newspapers expend a huge amount of energy defending. It’s the kind of setting left wing newspapers spend a huge amount of time eulogising in twaddly novels or indulgent arty ‘think pieces.’ And standing there it’s hard not to appreciate the lush beauty of it. Those kinds of places are the very definition of England as a ‘green and pleasant land.’

The problem for me isn’t with the place itself, it is with the place in contrast to others.

Take the concept of ‘Englishness.’ Yes these villages are in many ways the definition of ‘Englishness,’ but perhaps it’s an Englishness as it was. Personally I’m more interested in a more modern, multicultural vision of UK identity. A racially integrated, equal opportunity society – rural, suburban and urban.

It makes total sense that people who immigrate to the UK, and those who are born to parents who’ve immigrated, live in cities. At least communities can form, clustered around the few who share a common background with you. The problem is that perhaps this means the cities become increasingly more concentrated with people from multiracial backgrounds, and the countryside gets less so. The gap widens, the differences grow, the intolerance and misunderstandings increase and where does that leave the future of multiracial UK?

As any good scientist will tell you, you can’t make a trend out of a single data point… but here goes.

So I walk into the pub in this quintessential ‘old English’ village. It’s made of stone, the doors are about 5’ high, it sells funny named ales and they’ve got a beer festival on during England’s world cup games with amusingly named local bands. It’s old mans pub-tastic.

Where’s the old git chewing straw then? Oooh arrr.

Two details however, suggest a little bit of hope for a multicultural, modern Britain. One is that there’s a black family having a pint in the beer garden. At this point I’d suggest a gag in a yokel accent about ‘yer not from round ‘ere are you,’ but I sincerely hope they were. Two: guess what are the old gits at the bar talking about? Dodgy home brew? Fishing? How things aren’t what they used to be, oh no, that’s for sure?

Nope. They’re talking about the dangers of flipping eBay addiction, that’s what.

After four days surrounded by greenery so damn green it looked like it was on steroids, or some kind of mutant crack/compost, I returned to London. As the first familiar houses rose up around the car and the sense of ‘space’ contracted, I’m not quite sure, but I swear I felt that pressure return. Home sweet home, as Kano would say.

13 comments:

RepetitiveRoger said...

was this near Blackdown itself?

Blackdown said...

haha. i think there are some hills called Blackdown, but i've never been there. :)

optimumdj said...

hello mate, another eloquent and articulate piece. Been reading your stuff for the last few months, just dropping by to say many thanks for all the helpful info bout the scene (mixes, interviews etc.) and keep up the good work. bbbrrrrrrrraaaaaaappppppppp!

RingoKid said...

sounds like you really need to get out more fella...

...should come to NZ ;)

Brosnan (HF) said...

i just love reading stuff when people have been on crack WAHHHHEEY!

your way of words is inspiring keep it up

Paul Banks said...

I think that if grime doesn't appeal to those outside London it is probably more due to the superficial nature of much of the music than a lack of anger. Lets face it most MCs haven't got anything close to a song, just a load of rhymes about how people are stealing their style as if they had invented rapping, and threats of violence towards people getting lippy. There's nothing much to relate to unless you also have an attitude problem. This is why grime hasn't got big since Dizzie happened when it really threatened to, not enough people come up with the goods to have universal appeal and I think this is a bad thing for grime, too much preaching to the converted.

Paul, white boy from Stoke on Trent
living in London.

ForwardEver said...

I'm glad you bigged up the Calibre album, particularly in context to it as a rural traveling album. Indeed I have used said album in the same setting, as well as urban travels. The album breathes, inhales, exhales--not like some daft yoga music mind you, but like the crisp air in the lungs traversing an open space. Nice writing, thinkning and reasoning here BD.

elgato said...

Very interesting musings mate, great writing. It seems to be a very topical issue of late following the various interpretations of Burial, especially in light of an acceptance and celebration much further afield than one might have thought probable.

Environment appears to me to be an unquestionably important factor in the way in which we interpret music. I remember at an outdoor rave we played an early dubstep set, and it felt very very weird, especially as the sun was beginning to rise and light beginning to infiltrate. Hearing it outside of a compressed, intense, darkened room changed so much of the feeling it evoked.

Regarding territoriality (as it were), what are your thoughts on a sort of imposed, or constructed empathy...i.e. fundamentally, to what extent might it be said that an individual may not fully appreciate the work of an artist without a high degree of shared experience/circumstance? I suppose it would have to be a very flexible ideology, given the varying 'purposes' of music... in that music aspires to (or achieves) the creation of a mood specific to a set of circumstances of various types... physical, emotional, temporal, societal etc etc. In a way i think this might be the very thing that allows music to cross boundaries of various kinds, in that it may connect with different people on different responsive (conscious or unconscious) levels, and maybe not others. Then on occasion, perhaps, music hits home on almost all of them for a great number of people (as Burial seems to have done for a great number of Londoners of a particular history). I think what allows his music to appeal to people outside of that demographic is through the emotion which appears to underlie it all… sorrow and loss: an emotion that almost all of us have close personal experience with.

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